You see a lot of “top ten” whiskey lists nowadays. They’re often found in mainstream online publications, typically providing little substance or relative value to knowledgeable enthusiasts. I’ve made an attempt at my own top ten, though it’s admittedly far from perfect. In fact, I received a question from a reader this week asking for clarification as to why specific expressions I’ve rated highly weren’t noted. And that’s when it dawned on me – emotion plays a major role in my selection and ranking process.
All things considered, I think it’s past time I revisit my top ten – redevelop and restructure it, even. But before I do (I’ll leave it as-is for now), I thought it might be fun to count down a top ten list that’s beyond profile or price. It’s a list of Wild Turkey expressions that mean a lot to me personally. Some are rare, some are vintage, but overall, they’re each memorable in their own way.
I proudly present my Top Ten Sentimental Favorite Wild Turkey Expressions.
10. Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades (2017)
If you’re looking for an ideal example of a well-crafted, mature straight bourbon blend, look no further than Master’s Keep Decades. Consisting of barrels aged ten to twenty years, Decades is a tribute to both Eddie Russell’s 35th year of service and a testament to his father, Jimmy’s, legacy. But as fantastic as it may taste, its profile has the uncanny ability to transport me back to my childhood.
When I was a youngster, my dad often carried a roll of Certs candies in his blazer pocket. He didn’t part with them easily, but if my brothers and I got to wiggling at church, well, out came the Certs! I find Certs, specifically orange Certs, when nosing and tasting Master’s Keep Decades. It never fails. Any whiskey that sends you back in time is worthy of a spot on one’s all-time sentimental favorites.
9. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon: Farris & Dedman, #68-G-4
In 2018, I was fortunate to acquire a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon selected by Jamie Farris of Lincoln Road Package Store and Dixon Dedman of Kentucky Owl. While the whiskey was excellent in virtually every way, it was the conversations I had with both Jamie and Dixon that made the experience special. They’re quite complimentary of each other’s palate, and neither are anything but humble when it comes to what they do. As such, I was moved to post Dixon’s email detailing the story of how this Russell’s Reserve bottle came to be. The bourbon itself didn’t last long. And if there’s one barrel I could go back in time and taste again, Farris & Dedman #68-G-4 would surely place high on that list.
8. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon: Lincoln Road #1-A-4
Speaking of Jamie Farris, he’s gracing this list again. In the Fall of 2017, I lucked upon Jamie’s first Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection. Not only was it the older “tear/craft strip” bottle, it was signed by then associate master distiller, Eddie Russell. Sure, Wild Turkey bottles signed by Eddie aren’t exactly uncommon today, but it added a layer of uniqueness to an already unique bourbon. Jamie patiently talked to me by phone about its origin and the conversation stretched into all kinds of … well, “cool bourbon talk.”
There’s one thing I’ll say about Jamie Farris – he knows bourbon. He knows it from experience – from getting out there and tasting it in rickhouses, barrel after barrel (after barrel). And it can’t be understated – he’s remarkably humble and never pretends to be anything other than himself. Not only am I a fan of Jamie’s devotion, talent, and humility, I know that Eddie Russell is as well.
7. 1992 “Cheesy Gold Foil” Wild Turkey 101 Twelve-Year
Ah, the revered Wild Turkey “Cheesy Gold Foil” (or “CGF” for short). To many, it’s the ultimate Wild Turkey expression. For me, it all depends on the year/batch. While 1992 isn’t a personal favorite profile-wise, it earns a place on this top ten being the first Wild Turkey Twelve-Year I ever tasted (my second ever dusty Turkey pour). I owe this special experience to the generosity of an extraordinary bourbon friend, which I’ll discuss in greater detail shortly. For now, know that your first time tasting Wild Turkey 101/12 will likely be memorable. Those who’ve already had the pleasure can certainly attest.
6. Single Cask Nation: Wild Turkey Barrel #16-313
This monster single barrel from the sixth floor of Tyrone’s rickhouse K deserves a place on this list for several reasons. I could go on indefinitely about its stellar “best-of-the-best” profile (and have before), but above all else stands the thoughtfulness of Joshua Hatton and Jason Johnstone-Yellin.
In 2019, I held my first annual Patreon gathering in Lexington, Kentucky. Wild Turkey fans from all around brought their most cherished pours. In a lineup that included CGF, “Split Label” 101/12, Rare Breed batch 01-99, various rarities and sought-after limited editions, Single Cask Nation #16-313 held its own in glorious fashion. What struck me equally as impressive, was the fact that despite not being able to attend, Jason donated this bottle from his personal collection for all to enjoy. And enjoy it we did! Each time this Single Cask Nation selection comes to mind, it’s accompanied by memories of last year’s gathering. And I think that says it all right there.
5. 1994 Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit “Pewter Top”
Back in my diehard days of r/Bourbon and r/Scotchswap (RIP), I had the pleasure of meeting some truly passionate whiskey fans – many of which I’ve gotten to know and talk with outside of those forums. One such redditor is u/MikeCzyz.
Even then, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit was about what it is today – a tenured, single-barrel bourbon expression standing in the shadow of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. Be that as it may, it maintained its army of unwavering champions. Mike was (and remains) one of the few and the proud. And when it comes to Kentucky Spirit, no two words carry more weight than “pewter top.” Thankfully, Mike was willing to share his 1994 inaugural bottle of Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit in 2017, and damn was it delicious. To date it’s the best Kentucky Spirit I’ve ever tasted and I hope to one day enjoy another mid-1990’s release.
4. 2016 Whisky Jewbilee: Wild Turkey Barrel #2931
In 2017, I received a message on Reddit from author and spirits writer Aaron Goldfarb. After a few exchanges, he published “How Wild Turkey Funk Became a Whiskey Geek Obsession.” Seemingly overnight this blog received significant traffic, at least more than I’d ever witnessed at the time. It was then I realized that Wild Turkey had the potential to reach a wider audience; it just needed a louder voice. I set out on a mission to try to make that happen. It wasn’t so much for me as it was for others. If I could find happiness in a brand that’s affordable and easily found, thousands of whiskey enthusiasts might do the same.
Shortly after the article, Aaron introduced me to the Jewish Whisky Company, sharing the last of his treasured 2016 Whisky Jewbilee from Wild Turkey’s rickhouse O. I was mesmerized. Single-barrel Wild Turkey bottled at full barrel proof (NCF, no less) … Wowza! Why wasn’t Campari doing this? I guess at this point that particular topic is all but an Unsolved Mysteries rerun. Thank goodness the JWC was able to crack that code (albeit not near enough as I’d like), and shine a brief light on the magnificence of straight-from-a-barrel Turkey.
I should also mention that Aaron’s gesture led me to Joshua Hatton, who kindly set aside time for my first official blog interview. Ever since, both Joshua and Jason have been friends, supporters, and jovial advocates of Wild Turkey and this blog. There’s a number of wonderful personalities in the whiskey community. As far as I’m concerned, Joshua and Jason are two of the finest. Oh, and Aaron’s not so bad himself. 🙂
3. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon: “Promise to Mr. PorkChop”
In one’s lifetime, there are a handful of days that are never forgotten. Some are joyful, some are tragic, yet every once in a while an opportunity emerges when diametrical events can be reconciled – perhaps not entirely – but enough to find peace – to find meaning in the madness. Such was the case when I had the privilege of helping select a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon in memory of Roy “Mr. PorkChop” Alves.
It was my first Wild Turkey barrel selection at the distillery. Standing in Tyrone’s rickhouse A, with its 125-year history going back to James Porter Ripy and Old Hickory Springs in 1894, you could smell decades upon decades of innumerable barrels that once granted their essence to the angels. On that first floor, our group chose the most fitting barrel for Mr. PorkChop, a 122-proof bruiser of unforgettable flavor.
Looking back, the day seemed like a dream and I think of it often. A group of friends on the trip of a lifetime – sipping Kentucky’s finest with Eddie Russell. And at the heart of our assembly, a barrel to serve as a tribute to a father sorely missed. Bourbon can’t heal wounds, but in the right company it can warm the heart and touch the soul. That I can say for a surety.
Cheers to Mr. PorkChop!
2. 1974 Wild Turkey 101
As big a Wild Turkey fan as I may be, I stand on the shoulders of giants. One of those giants is Mr. David James. David has amassed a collection of Wild Turkey artifacts and curiosities worthy of a two-part American Pickers episode. (Hmm … may need to make that happen.)
Last New Year’s Eve I opened one of those artifacts – a 1974 Wild Turkey 101 1/10 pint (thank you again, David). While not Four Roses, it was (to me) the perfect whiskey to celebrate the life of the incomparable Al Young. How so? Without Al’s passion for bourbon history, I might still be writing my upcoming Wild Turkey book. His interviews with Jimmy and Eddie Russell, as well as Tom and Olivia Ripy, were in many ways the genesis of my first manuscript. Al’s work was immeasurable, as was the happiness imparted by the amazing ‘74 101, and I’m eternally grateful to both Al and David for all they’ve done for me.
1. 1981 Wild Turkey 101
Everyone has their first dusty Wild Turkey. For me it was a 1981 Wild Turkey 101, and it proved the catalyst of this incredible journey I currently travel. The grand majority of us don’t stumble upon dusty Wild Turkey by chance. It’s shared with us through friends and timely acquaintances. Which is exactly what happened back in 2016, when a kind Redditor realized my appreciation for everyday Wild Turkey was only the beginning.
I’m not sure exactly what motivated this generous internet stranger. One might call it fate, but to do so draws attention away from the act of kindness itself. I choose to believe he saw what many of us see in each other. We see the magic of discovery – the realization that there’s more to bourbon than highly allocated releases or repetitive sought-after labels. It resonates with all of us – the pure desire to share, celebrate, collaborate, and discuss. It’s the crux of our hobby. Without it, we’re merely “drinkers” or “collectors.”
So thank you, Chris, for that opportunity years ago. Sure, it’s possible I would’ve discovered vintage Wild Turkey at some point (my love for modern 101 was strong enough at the time to warrant it), yet one never knows. I don’t question the past. I accept it. I try my best to embrace it. And unless some tragedy befalls me or my beloved spirit of choice, I’ll forever be an evangelist for Wild Turkey. I sincerely hope that one day you’ll all be too.
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